Sunday, April 22, 2007

Continued retailer battle in the US via the competition authorities

See the news-article onn National Retail Federation website. It shows how regulators call upon state legislators to do something about credit-card interest rates. Effectively this may not really be about policy any more.

It appears as if the existence of competition authorities is creating a new battlefield for businesses. Which is to hurt any other business by complaining and having them investigated by the competition authority. Even if the claim fails, one will have won by damaging the image of the other company and by having them allocate resources to lititgations/competition discussions, thus increasing the cost base. We may have seen a similar thing here in Europe in the beer-brewery market. Belgian based Inbev provided information to the EU Commission which then fined the breweries. And The Belgian-based InBev group received no fines as they provided decisive information about the cartel under the Commission’s leniency programme.

So what may become a serious problem in the future is that regulators that do not understand the workings of the market, may be fooled by some in the market into believing that a situation of non-competition occurs, while effectively there is nothing going on. But if you're cunning enough and having a cartel-buster (bound to view cartels everywhere as a part of his job description and goal in life) you can do damage to competitors or other stakeholders in the market.

So while we are already used to an increased number of litigations in society between players themselves (consumers, companies, governments) we may also face an increasing number based on administrative and competition law. I am not sure if that will really be productive, especially not in a situation where the Commission effectively not just wishes to fine the companies themselves but also states that all those damaged must be compensated too.